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New Research Suggests Marketers Underestimate Consumer Interest in CSR

Image credit: Putting Purpose Into Marketing | Edelman/WFA

New research released last week by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and Edelman shows global marketers overwhelmingly agree that "purpose" will be increasingly important to building brands in the future.

Putting Purpose Into Marketing also reveals that consumers and marketers are sometimes divided when it comes to their perceptions of "purpose" and how it acts as a driver of purchase decisions. While both tend to agree that "purpose" is defined as "protecting and improving the environment," "positively impacting local communities" and "having ethical business practices," marketers underplayed emerging consumer concerns and failed to identify the markets where consumers are most driven by brand purpose.

Presented as part of the Global Marketer Conference in Brussels last week, the study identifies the extent to which marketers believe that consumer decision-making is prompted by a brand's corporate social responsibility efforts, as well as gaps and business opportunities. The aim was to reveal the flip side of the coin explored by Edelman's goodpurpose survey, which explores consumer attitudes around social purpose, their commitment to specific societal issues and their expectations of brands.

Marketers strongly acknowledge the growing importance of purpose: 88% agreed or strongly agreed it would be "increasingly important to building brands," 83% that it is "important for a brand to have a sense of purpose" and 81% that it was "a business opportunity." However, when comparing their responses with Edelman's consumer data, marketers seem to underestimate the extent to which consumers said they supported good causes (46% of marketers said consumers support good causes vs. 60% consumers) and the proportion of global consumers who thought it was OK for brands to support good causes and make money at the same time (56% vs. 76%).

Significantly, the biggest gap between the two sets of responses was marketers' perceptions of which region's consumers are most motivated by purpose. When asked for the continent with the greatest proportion of consumers who say they make purchase decisions based on good causes, 58% of marketers chose Europe, 36% North America, 5% Asia and 1% South America.

Conversely, Edelman's research identifies consumers in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, UAE and Brazil as being the most purpose-driven. These results show that consumers' passion and action on behalf of a company's CSR efforts in these emerging markets is much stronger than in developed markets. Consumers in these countries also say they are more willing to pay more and more often for purpose-infused brands.

Marketers agreed that purpose needs to be top down with 80% saying that the Chief Executive — and 74% the Chief Marketing Officer — should be involved in designing and shaping purpose. Only 53% of marketers thought all employees should be involved; but as many as 88% agreed or strongly agreed that "purpose needs to pervade the entire organisation and have buy-in from all business functions."

When asked if the brands they worked for generally had a sense of purpose, 49% marketers agreed or strongly agreed but only 38% felt they had been successful in effectively communicating the "purpose" of their own companies. Nevertheless, some 93% agreed that it is possible to measure the impact of purpose on positive PR and reputation, 91% on consumer engagement, 90% on employee satisfaction, 86% on brand equity and 71% on customer satisfaction. 54% agreed it was possible to measure the impact of purpose on sales but 74% disagreed or stronglydisagreed that it is easy to measure the the impact of purpose on the brand.

When asked to pick a purpose leader out of the Ad Age top 20 global marketers, 23% of respondents chose Unilever, Coca-Cola and P&G were tied second with 16% each of the votes, and McDonald's came in fourth with 11%. 

Putting Purpose Into Marketing is based on responses from 149 senior marketers representing 58 companies in more than 40 countries for companies representing over $US70 billion in advertising.


Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor of Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]


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